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Mars Explorer on @Neonmob for @Blogs4Bytes via #hshdsh

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Full Series for Mars Explorer

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Mars Explorer on @Neonmob for @Blogs4Bytes via #hshdsh

  1. 1. Abandoned Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin Sometimes you fly past buildings, which poke out of the landscape like blisters on a demon's back. They're old outposts, and I'm familiar with each and every one of them. It's a three month trip from Cape Canaveral to Poseidon's Arm on Mars, three months traveling in the silent waste between planets, and if anything else, a girl's got plenty of time to read. I memorized the history of Mars, from the earliest known observations to the first explorers sixty years ago to where we are now: two bases and dozens of abandoned outposts scattered across the landscape. The name “Outpost 12” slid dully across the surface of my mind as I flew past.
  2. 2. Arrival Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin Finally, I've arrived. Currently I'm sitting in my pod, hovering above the ground only a hundred yards or so out from the main entrance to the citadel of the southern base. As usual, my nerves are getting the best of me. You'd think a girl like me, a person who has witnessed some of the worst things imaginable, would have thicker skin. I've seen alien tornadoes tear people in half, I've had three close friends commit suicide, and I've survived in this God damn hell for four years. That’s some sort of feat, and yet I'm terrified to meet new people. Go figure. Fear is never easy to explain.
  3. 3. Closer Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin I'm getting closer. Today I passed the boundary of the southern base, which is a crane shaped like a cross. They once used that crane to mine iron ore, but attention shifted from living to surviving when the good season ended. The good season, which lasted for about seven years, was the only time any of us truly thought a civilization could be established in this horrid place. That season began with the landing of the Legendary aircraft, and it saw the highest human population on Mars to date, which was over six hundred people. Now there are only sixteen human beings left living on Mars, or, well, after the storm, probably less.
  4. 4. Death Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin Another day alone is normal, but there’s something wrong with this place, something that makes me feel sick. I spent today searching the west wing of the main building, which overlooks a frozen lake, Lake Michigan, as it is so endearingly known by the Martians who live here. Or used to live here. I am astonished that I have not been able to find them. People don't just disappear. Either a storm takes them or they take themselves, but storms leave evidence, and suicides usually don't come in groups. Besides, the six people running the southern base have lived on Mars for over a decade, each one of them, and it is rare to see a person take their own life after surviving more than five years in this place.
  5. 5. Despair Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin Mars can be gorgeous, as it usually is at Outpost 16, especially at sunset. But sometimes all I can think about is death. Randall was younger than me, the youngest in our crew. I think about him often, and I'm not even sure why. He was cocky and obnoxious and not very friendly; he and I simply did not get along. But I'd never seen death before, not truly, and even though I've witnessed a dozen deaths since Randall’s, and many of them worse than his, I will never forget the look on his face when he realized the line had been cut by the faulty power drive. The titanium rope had been burned to nothing, and he started to scream, but then Captain Abel shut off the comm channel, and Randall’s death became as silent as the space surrounding us. I didn't sleep for weeks after that.
  6. 6. Doorstep Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin The southern base is bigger than the northern base, and I've only been there once. Today I passed the “city limits,” so to speak. In terms of area, the southern base is larger than Los Angeles, but severely less populated. The highest population that the southern base ever saw was four hundred persons, during the good season, and that only lasted for a couple of years before a storm wiped most of them out. That’s what it almost always is, a storm. Storms kill us, and they keep us from going home, because we never have enough time to build a return craft, as the mission intended us. The storms always wipe them out before we can complete them.
  7. 7. Dream Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin It feels like I'm dreaming. I have to keep reminding myself of where I am. It's so quiet, the human mind isn't well suited to such a strange landscape, but I guess that makes sense. After all, we didn't evolve here. It is beautiful, though, when it's clear. I've never seen a storm like the one that most likely wiped out the northern base, and I'm from Florida. It came out of nowhere, those guys barely had time to realize they weren't gonna make it. They told me to abandon my mission, to find cover and get to the southern base when it was over. They knew they probably wouldn't survive . . .
  8. 8. Farewell Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin What can I do? Always there's a little bit of hope, to keep a person going, always there's something to anticipate, or to look forward to. What have I to look forward to but death? What have I to hope for but a peaceful eternity? What would you do in this situation? I'm alone, so desperately and painfully alone, literally the only person on the planet, and yet it isn't even my planet. If I take my own life, will I be forgiven? I feel like Burgess Meredith in that old Twilight Zone episode, pressing the barrel into his temple, whispering to himself "surely I'll be forgiven." No, no I won't do it. I refuse to take my own life. Do you hear me, you stupid, ungrateful planet! I'll live until I'm old and grey if I have to! This is my final entry. I'm not going to kill myself, I refuse to become another suicide statistic, though some might call my mission suicidal. I've decided that I cannot live without another human being in my life, whether they be a child, an elderly person, a man, a woman, whatever, I don't care. I need contact, and so I've decided to head back north. The two scientists at the Outpost will be my last resort, if no one has survived up north, but I've got a feeling that I won't be coming back. I'm broadcasting this diary on a public radio channel. The Earth needs to know the truth. It’s winter, and it’s cold, but there’s less dust in the winter, and I might survive the journey. Wish me luck, but don't try to find me. Stay away from this planet. This is Lieutenant Megan Hudson, signing off.
  9. 9. Farewell Variant!!
  10. 10. Flying Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin As I soared through the Martian air today, I thought of the past. I remember how excited I was when I first entered the space program, however many years ago that was I don't know. I was young, then, and I didn’t know anything. I didn't know what space was truly like. I didn't know what death was truly like either. Those two things go hand in hand, in the sense that they're both quieter than you'd expect. After the initial weightlessness-induced excitement dies down, and everyone stops talking, and the engines are turned off, you become aware of nothing but your own breathing and your own heartbeat. You never knew such things could be so loud. Space is silent, as is death, as was with Randall.
  11. 11. Gear Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin At least NASA didn't skimp on our gear, though I can't bring myself to believe that their “generosity” actually came from a sincere concern for our well being. All PR cares about is maintaining a safe image. So they put money into this suit. I have to admit, though, it's an incredible suit. It filters the CO2 atmosphere into Nitrogen and Oxygen, to imitate the atmosphere of Earth, though I feel as though I haven't had a true breath of fresh air in years. This suit is basically armor, but beyond bulletproof. I've got a Flex-O Cape built in Japan, soft as silk though it can be hard as Kevlar, it serves as my shelter, like a tent in the night. There’s no way it could protect me from a real storm, though, no way in hell.
  12. 12. Ghosts Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin This place feels haunted. It’s huge, it really is, it would take me three or four days to walk from one end of the southern base to the other, depending on how fast I moved and what was in my way. The tallest buildings here used to house massive greenhouses, plants meant to fill this thin atmosphere with oxygen and make it possible for us to live here. That’s an insane idea, a narcissistic idea, really, if you think about it. As if we have the power to change the constitution of an entire planet’s atmosphere. The more we play God, the further we grow from Him. Not that I believe in a Creator, but I'm scared. I need help. Someone, please . . . help me.
  13. 13. Haunted Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin I found them. I found them, and as soon as I found them I turned and ran. I didn't think it was possible, but I guess I was wrong. I have no problem admitting I'm wrong, but I can't help but think that I might be in denial this time. I just can’t . . . I can't believe it. All of them: Wendy, Richard, Kyle, Leslie, Reece, and Georgia, the six survivors in the southern base, two of them, Kyle and Reece, were the first children ever born on Mars. They've lived here their entire lives, they've never even seen earth, those two, and yet they did it. They checked out early, as my grandfather would say. They took their own lives. They huddled together--in the break room of all places!--and turned off the oxygen. I have to leave. I can't stay, I just can't.
  14. 14. Landscape Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin One might call it the "red desert," or the "scorched earth," but neither description truly fits. "Barren wasteland" does not even come close. It is, in some sense, a wasteland, yes, but it is so much more than that. It is desolate and harsh and empty, but it is also beautiful. This land has teeth, massive red teeth that will rip you limb from limb if you aren't careful. But the teeth can be marvelous landmarks, especially in the light of the rising sun. At dusk, though, each step is a nightmare, and each night is a terror in the sand, laying awake and watching the reflections of stars through my helmet. Sometimes I can see the Earth. It looks like a distant blue star.
  15. 15. Locate Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin Luckily, I left before the storm hit. They sent me on an "Explorer Mission," which has since turned into a "Locate Mission." We set up two bases on Mars, meant to become cities, one in the southern hemisphere, the other in the north. I landed in the north last April. I've been headed south for days now, on foot. At first I was headed east, to explore the mountain range seventy miles out from the northern base, but now I'm not sure if the northern base is even there anymore. The storm knocked out communication . . . and most likely everything else.
  16. 16. Mission Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin They sent me on a mission. It was dark when I left, darker than it had been in years. But what would you expect? The Martian landscape is unforgiving. Mountains of dust, higher than Everest, sent like black waves crashing across the red desert. We thought it was safe. We thought it was habitable. Perhaps we weren't wrong, but the thought of turning the red planet green becomes more far- fetched every day. I'm sure NASA is still broadcasting those ads: "Mars! A perfect ecosystem in only a decade! Forests and Oceans and Life!" Yeah, right. Six decades and there are only a few of us left.
  17. 17. Others Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin I see them. Two men, I know they are men because I know who they are, James Pinnock and Eduardo Sanchez, two scientific geniuses sentenced to a life of hard work and isolation, stranded on this deserted planet because as children they loved the natural world and they could do nothing to fight the desire to explain it. Still, they are men, and it would be dangerous, suicidal, even, for me to stop and say hello. Isolation turns a person's mind, makes them go mad, and I wouldn't be the first woman to be attacked by a sex-starved astronaut. So I fly right on by. I wish them well, of course, but I don't look back.
  18. 18. Outpost 2 Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin Outpost 2, so named because only two people ever lived and worked there, is an industrial site, and a reminder of my own journey. I entered the Space Academy with hopes of working at Outpost 2, because the two people living there were geologists. Not the only geologists on Mars, of course, but the only ones brave enough to live alone for six years, and to collect samples from the deepest, most dangerous caves and caverns and chasms that this planet has to offer. I never made it to Outpost 2, but the work they completed at that place inspired me to become a Mars geologist, and eventually, an astronaut.
  19. 19. Outpost 8 Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin As I near the only Outpost which is still in operation, Outpost 8, I feel a strange, clenching sensation in the middle of my stomach, and for a moment I worry that I'm going to be sick again, but then it passes, and I'm left to contemplate the resulting emptiness. It always feels strange, after spending so much time alone, to be near other humans again. It's like returning home from a long trip; you expect home to feel strange and unfriendly, but it only feels normal, and that normality is what makes you feel strange. Such is the case with seeing others again after such a long and profound period of isolation.
  20. 20. Outpost 13 Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin Ah, the famous Outpost 13. This place, of course, is what intrigued me enough to learn all about the Martian Outposts. When we first came to the red planet sixty years ago, we began building Outposts. The northern and southern bases weren't established until at least thirty years ago, when the largest manned mission ever recorded brought over one hundred scientists, soldiers, and even a few civilians to this terrible place. Before that, all the Martians (as we call ourselves) lived in Outposts. And Outpost 13, the very first of those establishments, was given the number thirteen because of the ill luck possessed by its inhabitants, who died shortly after its construction.
  21. 21. Outpost 14 Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin It is difficult to remember which Outpost is which, and even more difficult to remember the order in which they were built. The first of the lot was Outpost 13, which was named thirteen because of its apparent unlucky nature. And then Outpost 12 was built, and then Outpost 6, and then Outpost 14. Outpost 14 was the first of the Outposts which was truly habitable. People survived in that place. Today I flew past 14, and it was hard for me not to stop. This pod is getting uncomfortable, and I'd love to stretch my legs, but I don't dare leave this craft for fear of getting caught by a storm.
  22. 22. Outpost 18 Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin Outpost 18 was the sixth Outpost built on Mars, by a man named J.R. Smith. Captain J.R. Smith is the only person I've ever known who actually enjoyed the red planet, though he never called it Mars. Mars is the Roman god of war, based on the Greek god of war, Ares. "Ares was first," Smith used to say, "and I believe that to be this planet's true name." Of course, I never knew him while he lived on Mars, excuse me, Ares. I knew him back on Earth, he helped train my unit before taking off on his own mission, which established Outpost 18, and therefore was technically a success.
  23. 23. Pod Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin Today, finally, I reached the equator. Years ago, at specific points along the equator, the southern base set up emergency pods, in case an explorer like me was caught out in a storm. Of course, if I had really been caught in the middle of a Martian storm, I'd be long dead. Each pod is equipped with rations, actual, physical food, and fresh water, or at least as fresh as it can get on Mars. This afternoon I climbed into the pod, fired up the electric engine, and headed south. Should be another three days before I make it to the base. At least I can rest, and, if need be, I can travel at night, though that’s still dangerous.
  24. 24. Sick Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin Two weeks of recycled water, vitamins and energy pills. Sometimes I get sick, and that's the worst. I was worried, when I got into this suit, that using the bathroom would prove difficult, or gross. It's actually much cleaner than using a toilet, though you've got to get used to the vacuum, and the power wash. Still, it's quite clean. They wouldn't risk contaminating such an expensive suit. It expels everything into the Martian landscape, where nothing can survive anyway, not even bacteria. But being sick - vomiting - that's a different story. Those are some of the most disgusting experiences I've ever had on this planet.
  25. 25. Sick 2 Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin There's nothing like keeling over and puking your guts out into the helmet of a ten billion dollar space suit in the middle of a Martian plain. If I ever make it home, more than anything else I'll remember the sharp pain in the middle of my gut, the buckling sensation of my knees giving out, the overwhelming desire to tear the helmet off and suck in a breath of fresh air. Since I never eat much, nothing much comes out, but it's enough to disgust me into vomiting again. You have to wait until you're truly finished, and the inside plate of your helmet is covered in that stomach goop, before vacuuming it out, or else the vacuum will suck your throat out through your mouth, though there are worse ways to die.
  26. 26. Suicide Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin The suicide rate for Mars astronauts is about forty percent, which means that out of each hundred people who arrive here, forty of them will kill themselves. That is a heavy statistic, and it’s hard to swallow, but it’s days like these that remind me of why that statistic exists. I spent the entire day searching for people, for other humans, for friends, for enemies, for something, for LIFE. And I found nothing but myself, I heard nothing but my own voice, echoing plaintively in the deep halls of the southern base. There are supposed to be six people living here, three men and three women, but I have been unable to find them as of yet. Once I thought I saw two people walking, but now I know it was only an illusion.
  27. 27. Three Towers Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin It was eerie, today, to fly past the Triplets, or the Three Towers. Technically, this place is too large to be considered an Outpost, though it is not nearly big enough to be called a base. It is somewhere in between, though we Martians choose to refer to it as "Outpost 7," because seven is a holy number, and since its inception, this place has served as a holy beacon of light for weary travelers on the red planet's harsh surface. Many explorers have been saved by the soldiers who lived at Outpost 7, though now it is empty, as is almost every other Outpost on this God forsaken rock.
  28. 28. Twin Beacons Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin The Twin Beacons were never meant to house anyone, though they sheltered explorers from storms on numerous occasions. They aren't far from Outpost 7, and actually 7 was built to serve as shelter for those who would construct and maintain the Twin Beacons, which were our most important communication centers. They relayed information back and forth from the satellites and from Earth. Depending on the positions of the planets, it takes anywhere from five to twenty minutes to send a radio message, and when the Beacons worked, they were quite efficient. Two years ago a storm knocked them out, and we haven't spoken with Earth since, though the Beacons themselves continue to shine their spotlights into the empty, silent sky.
  29. 29. Two Towers Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin Outposts 21 and 3, respectively, were built one after the other. Chronologically, I think they are Outposts number nine and ten, though I'm not sure about that, and I don't have a book to reference. Screw it, it isn't as if it even matters anymore. The more empty Outposts I see, the more horrible dead plains I fly past, the more I realize that this planet is doomed, it was doomed from the very start. One could say Earth is doomed as well, as all things are doomed to expire, but at least Earth had a hayday, at least Earth truly knew beauty and life. Mars only knows death, which is appropriate.
  30. 30. Wind Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin The storm came and went two weeks ago. One hour and it was all over. I was on the outer edges and still it shook me up, it was like an earthquake in the air, I'm surprised the eastern mountain range survived. Some mountains don't. There are wind canyons on Mars, huge valleys cloven by air, unending chasms and high, treacherous cliffs bent like slaves toward the wind. It's a hostile place, and unless the storms abate, I can't see humans ever truly living here. Maybe if we dug underground. It's simply too big of a project, simply too huge of an endeavor. There’s a fine line between ambition and insanity.
  31. 31. WWW Mars Explorer by Jonathan Blessin It’s difficult to explain exactly what happened, and even more difficult to outline “what went wrong,” even though that’s what NASA wants. We’re supposed to file a report every six months, explaining what could be improved, what could change, and if anything DID go wrong, we're supposed to explain WHY it went wrong. It’s been sixty years since Liza Rayne and Marcus Arletta set foot on the red planet, and so much has happened in that time period that it’s simply impossible to say “this is where things went wrong.” There is no magic cure to this Martian sickness, the symbolic disease that nobody can survive.